Antibiotics

Healthy Food in Health Care engages the health care community in bringing an end to the routine use of antibiotics in raising food animals. Such routine, non-therapeutic use contributes significantly to the rise in resistant bacterial infections in humans and is unnecessary.

According to government estimates, up to 80% of all the antibiotics consumed each year are routinely given to poultry, beef cattle, and swine in their feed, not to treat diagnosed disease, but to promote faster growth and to prevent disease outbreaks that are inevitable under confined, often unhygienic conditions where most US animals are raised. Many such feed antibiotics are identical or very nearly so to human medicines, including penicillin, tetracycline, erythromycin and sulfa drugs.

This currently legal, routine and unnecessary use of antibiotics in animal agriculture contributes significantly to the rise in resistant bacterial infections in humans. Numerous health organizations including the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Health Care Without Harm have called for an end to this practice.

In 2009-2010, Healthy Food in Health Care developed facility-level and practitioner petitions in support of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA)(S.619, H.R. 1549). PAMTA was federal legislation introduced in Congress that proposed to end the use of important human antibiotics in the feed and water of animals that are not sick. We submitted a petition in support of PAMTA signed by more than 1000 health care practitioners to the Senate Committee on Energy along with a letter endorsed by more than 70 hospitals in support of this legislation.

In 2012, HCWH submitted comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on behalf of 45 hospitals and medical societies and 359 health and healthcare professionals concerned about overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture. In its comments, HCWH urged the FDA to carry out, as directed by recent court decisions, withdrawal proceedings for the use of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed and to evaluate the safety of using other medically important antibiotics in animal foods to protect human health. HCWH also urged FDA not to replace enforceable limitations on antibiotic use with voluntary guidance. 

In addition to public policy advocacy, we also encourage hospitals to preferentially purchase meat and poultry produced without non-therapeutic antibiotics. Dozens of hospitals have signed on to our Balanced Menus Challenge, which asks facilities to commit to sustainable meat and poultry purchasing.

Medical Association Policies on Antibiotics

Other Resources

  • Institute of Medicine, Board on Global Health
    Microbial Threats to Health: Emergence, Detection, and Response
    Washington, D.C., National Academy of Sciences Press (2003)
  • Joint WHO/FAO/OIE Expert Workshop on Non-human Antimicrobial Usage and Antimicrobial Resistance (Exec. Sum.)
    Geneva, 1 - 5 December 2003.
  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Background on Antibiotic Resistance
  • Antimicrobial Resistance of Old and Recent Staphylococcus aureus Isolates from Poultry: First Detection of Livestock-Associated Methicillin-Resistant Strain ST398
    October 2008
  • Testimony before the House Committee on Rules on The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (H.R. 1549) (pdf)